Monday, March 10, 2014


Rich Laychock

While the C-RS has several highly visible leaders, there are a number of members whose invaluable contributions are made from behind the scenes.   Since 2000, Rich Laychock has been one of these members.

Shortly after joining the society, Rich became Membership Secretary.  He created a database of members.  He installed computers at the Cultural Center and instituted networking, dragging us into the 21st Century.  

Rich with his wife Michelle
Rich gave us the ability to conduct our meetings via teleconferencing.  This was not, as skeptics might suspect, just because he had to drive the 8-hour round- trip from Harrisburg to attend those meetings.  Or
because in those days board meetings would last for 4-5 hours.  He did it because he has engineering in his blood.  Rich is a hands-on leader.

As Chief Information Officer, naturally his improvements facilitated communications between the chapters and the National.  For the first time the chapters are able to distribute news of their events to the whole membership.

As Chief Financial Officer he has streamlined our bookkeeping and brought it up to date.  Our records and, consequently, our activities have a new transparency.

Currently Rich is also Chairman of the Cultural Center.  In 2013 he installed new windows in the basement.  He then made our much-discussed handicap ramp a reality.  Presently he is supervising creation of a handicapped restroom.  Its completion will permit us once again to host events.

Front left to right:  Hannah, Ricky, Kaylee
Back left to right:  Andre, Emilie, and Bohdana
A two-time graduate of Penn State, Rich holds a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s in Finance.  As we have seen, his talents in these fields have served the C-RS well.  Taking a lesson from his dad, Rich has the ability to speak with anyone.  He is able to maintain good relations with our members despite the intensity with which some issues are debated.

Rich and his wife Michelle are the proud parents of five, plus a Ukrainian student, Bohdana, who is a cousin’s daughter.  Born in Pottsville, PA, Rich discovered that he is 100% Rusyn.  This took an epiphany.  

Rich's Dad John Laychock 
Though his mother was Byzantine Catholic, his father’s church was founded by Lemkos, eventually being absorbed into the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  This was even though, as his grandmother used to say, there was only one Ukrainian family belonging to their church.  They followed Rusyn customs, but thought they were Ukrainian.

Rich was in his 30s when he was given a copy of the very first printing of The New Rusyn Times.  He contacted Rich Custer, then went on the second C-RS Heritage Tour.  After such total immersion it became clear to Rich that he has been, is, and will be a Rusyn.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


A typical morning at the Studium begins with breakfast offered from 7:30 in the cafeteria across from the dorm. Participants then go off to morning class which begins at 9. In weeks one and two, the first class session from Monday through Friday will be the history lectures offered by Professor Paul Robert Magocsi in English and by Valerii Padiak in Rusyn. In week three, the first class session each day will be the folklore lectures offered by Professor Patricia Krafcik in English and Professor Emeritus Mykola Mushynka in Rusyn. After lunch throughout the three weeks, beginning Rusyn-language students will have class with Marek Gaj and Patricia Krafcik, and intermediate and advanced students will meet for language study with Dr. Kveta Koporova. Instructors at the Studium are all devoted to working closely with you in broadening and deepening your understanding of Rusyn language, history, and culture. 

 Paul Robert Magocsi and Mykola Mušynka.    

Professor Magocsi is the world’s leading expert on Carpatho-Rusyn history. He is the holder of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto where he has created the most complete library of Carpatho-Rusyn-related scholarship and other materials in the world—a literal treasure-trove for scholars. He is a widely recognized and respected researcher, writer, and teacher, enormously energetic, sharp in terms of his critical thinking. When attending Professor Magocsi’s lectures, be ready to take voluminous notes from the start! His lectures will introduce you to the history of Carpatho-Rusyns from their beginnings to the present day. His style is to present his lecture and then to set aside 30-45 minutes for questions and answers. This lets him cover efficiently what he wants to convey, and then he is open to whatever questions might have arisen during the course of the lecture. Those Q&A sessions, by the way, are as exciting and informative as the lectures. You will definitely acquire a keen understanding of where our people came from and what forces shaped them through the centuries, and you’ll be able to share your new and tremendous body of knowledge with your family and community. 

Valerii Padiak and Patricia Krafcik
Valerii Padiak is a bright and enthusiastic scholar from Uzhhorod, Transcarpathia—just over the border from Slovakia in Ukraine. Like Professor Magocsi, he has been teaching at the Studium since its founding in 2009. He has also been teaching at the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture at the University of Prešov. Padiak is steeped in the history and culture of Carpatho-Rusyns originating in Transcarpathia. He is a walking encyclopedia! Among other things, he is a publisher of books on Carpatho-Rusyns, a calling in which he has been involved for many years. He has worked hard developing educational opportunities for Rusyn kids in Transcarpathia, as well, and he has helped Studium participants in the past three years get in contact with their Rusyn roots in Transcarpathia. Padiak strongly encourages the American participants in the Studium to practice their Rusyn, and in his warm and animated way he is happy to encourage even simple conversations over meals in the cafeteria. 

Dr. Kveta Koporova teaches the intermediate/advanced Rusyn-language class. A serious scholar of language in her own right, she is the first doctoral candidate at the University of Prešov to produce a dissertation about the Rusyn language in the Rusyn language. Why is this important? Because in using the Rusyn language to express highly technical and sophisticated ideas, she has demonstrated that the language is indeed capable of vast and varied expression. In her language class, she works with participants who already speak Rusyn, usually having acquired their language in the home environment, and also with those who have had experience with other East Slavic languages such as Russian and Ukrainian. Koporova is a warm and hard-working scholar and instructor. She is, by the way, studying English on her own and will be happy to try a bit of English with you, I’m sure, next summer. 

Marek Gaj is a schoolteacher steeped in his Rusyn language and culture. For twelve years he has taught children Rusyn in a school in Medzilaborce. His experience will serve him well as he helps guide beginners in the basics of the Rusyn language. Like other teachers of Slavic languages, Marek is aware that such complex Slavic languages as Rusyn cannot be taught in three weeks, but he will offer an enjoyable introduction to the language through the learning of the alphabet, some basic grammar, simple phrases and sentences, and songs. 

Mykola Mushynka, a professor emeritus at Prešov University will offer folklore lectures in Rusyn. He is a truly unique personality who lived through the difficult era of Communist Czechoslovakia and suffered personal and professional setbacks during those years. Hailing from the village of Kurov in the Prešov Region, he himself grew up completely immersed in and actively practicing all the folklore traditions about which he has written and taught. He speaks Ukrainian and Russian perfectly, as well, but not English. I know, however, that he would be happy to meet the American participants and to talk with you—and there are usually folks who can help with interpretation on the spot. Professor Mushynka is in many ways larger than life. His warmth is palpable and his twinkling blue eyes match his sense of humor. He will be our guide when we attend an authentic Rusyn wedding in his native village of Kurov. He himself has participated as the starosta (best man/leader of the wedding traditions) in several such weddings, and he knows these traditions inside and out. This event is not to be missed. 

Anna Plishkova
Dr. Anna Plishkova is the organizer of the Studium and the head of the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture at the University of Prešov. Her calm and collected personality belies the very dedicated hard worker within—the one whose strong and persistent efforts helped lead to the establishment of the Institute. She will open and close the Studium session and will be working behind the scenes to insure that all runs smoothly. She is also the liaison between the Studium and the university administration, an important role in which she serves to garner strategic support for the Institute and the Studium. Dr. Plishkova also completed her dissertation a few years ago on the Rusyn language written in Rusyn and defended the dissertation in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. She has written widely on the language, including a book available from the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center translated into English and entitled Language and National Identity: Rusyns South of the Carpathians (East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, 2009). Along with one of Professor Magocsi’s many books, The People From Nowhere, Professor Plishkova’s book is well worth reading if you are interested in Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture. 

Finally, in week three of this summer’s Studium, I (Pat Krafcik) will give the afternoon lectures on selected topics in Carpatho-Rusyn folklore in English. I am an Associate Professor of Russian Language and Literature at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I participated with Professor Magocsi in founding the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center in 1978 and was the editor for most of the years of our publication of the Carpatho-Rusyn American Newsletter (1978-98). I have nurtured a passion for Slavic folklore for some decades now and offered lectures in selected topics in Rusyn folklore at the past three sessions of the Studium. My lectures are more like talks in which I invite participation from the students so that our sessions resemble a discussion over coffee—they are both serious and enjoyable, and full of information at the same time. Participant contributions enrich what I have to contribute. The learning works both ways, and I appreciate this. I will also be assisting Marek Gaj in his teaching of beginning Rusyn. For the first two weeks, while Marek is still finishing his academic year in Medzilaborce with his own pupils, I will work with the beginners during the first hour of class, practicing what Marek has taught us. During the second hour, Marek will arrive to introduce new material. In week three, he will teach the full class time, but I will be there to help with translating questions you might have for him. 

There are others connected with the work of the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture and who will be present at the opening and closing ceremonies. Among them, Timea Veres, who speaks excellent English, will be a helpful liaison between participants and the Institute people. She is a fine historian in her own right and is a lovely individual who is willing to go the extra mile to help participants feel at home. You may also meet along the way others members of the staff of the Institute for Rusyn Language and Culture.  

We all hope to see you at the Studium this summer for three weeks of significant learning and unforgettable experiences. The deadline (somewhat flexible) for applying is March 1, 2014, and applications and more information are available at the Carpatho-Rusyn Society website. Please note that the arrival for participants from abroad is Saturday, June 14. Already on Sunday, June 15, we have our first excursion—a visit to the Svidník Open Air Museum and the Svidník Rusyn Folk Festival which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have, at  

Written by Pat Krafcik

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Kurova Ensemble
What is a typical day like at the Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum? What is the dorm like? What excursions lie ahead for this coming summer? This blog text will address these issues. 

But first: Before discussing the dorm and excursions, a quick note about an important question: Can a student registered at a North American college or university get college credit from attending the Studium? Yes. But here’s how this works: As in the case of many other study-abroad programs, the institution abroad does not itself award a certain number of credits. The awarding of credits—either semester or quarter credits—depends on the student’s home institution. What the Prešov University Studium organizers offer upon a student’s request is an official stamped document which states clearly what the program is and how many class hours the students attended for history, folklore, and language. The students then takes this document to their university’s Registrar who processes this information and determines the exact number of credits to be awarded. The student might also want to download the informational brochure already available at the C-RS website, print it out, and add it to that official document from the Studium so that their Registrar clearly understands what the program entailed. Every college and university has the right to assess study abroad programs on the basis of its own standards. Students who want credits should let the Studium organizers know from the start if they would like to get this document. 

A typical morning at the Studium begins from 7:30 to 9 in the cafeteria across from the dorm where participants will find a good breakfast. Then, off to morning class which starts at 9. The first week’s morning and afternoon class sessions this summer, 2014, will be divided up between the language lessons and the folklore lectures offered by Prešov University Professor Emeritus Mykola Mushynka in Rusyn and Professor Patricia Krafcik from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, in English. In weeks two and three, along with language classes, participants will attend history lectures by Prešov University Lecturer Valerii Padiak in Rusyn and the University of Toronto’s Professor Paul Robert Magocsi in English. More on the faculty and classes in the next blog. 

Meanwhile, what about the dorm, the cafeteria, and the excursions? 
The dorm rooms are suites of two “bedrooms,” each with two beds, and each suite has a toilet which is in a separate little cubby from the sink and shower. It has been possible for previous participants to ask for a bedroom for one person for a few extra dollars, and this may be the case again—so please write to the Studium organizers with your request (write to English-speaking Timea Veres at For stunning views of the surrounding town and countryside, go up to the top floor. From one side you can see the village of Kapušany, and if you look carefully, you can actually make out the ruins of Kapušany castle high up on a craggy hill. From another side of the dorm, you look down at the swiftly flowing Torysa River which runs through Prešov and offers a terrific walking and running trail for residents and visitors. Wifi is available in the rooms. There are two kitchens on each floor with a stove and a smattering of pots, dishes, and mugs, and each has an additional and larger refrigerator for residents to use. Some of us became proficient at using the European washing machine and dryer located in the kitchen areas; others simply washed out items of clothing by hand in Woolite or some other detergent and hung them on travel drying lines stretched across the room. Bring light summer clothing, and plan to dress in layers for the occasional cooler or rainy day. This writer found that washing these kinds of clothes by hand isn’t a problem at all. 

Kurova Ensemble
The cafeteria is located just across the parking lot from the dorm. Breakfast may include pastries and hearty bread, butter, and jam, sometimes sliced cheese and ham, at other times eggs and yogurt, and even granola. Lunch always starts with a delicious soup served family style, followed by a variety of dishes of meat and potatoes, some fish, some versions of baked dough. Dinner salads were also available at suppertime, as well, and this writer found that option to be nutritious and very welcome. The occasional serving of pyrohŷ is always a hit. Occasionally a dish served for lunch or for supper was a bit difficult for us to define, made of thick dough and other ingredients. A sense of humor definitely makes the experience of dealing with the food fun. You’ll have some amusing memories from this aspect of the program, but you’ll never go hungry. And with a visit to TESCO or the small grocery across from the dorm, you can always find a few snacks or pieces of fruit to supplement the cafeteria diet. If you have any special dietary needs, please let Timea Veres know right away. 

Excursions and special events this coming summer will include the Medzilaborce Festival of Culture and Sport; the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art; gravesites of famous Rusyns at Čertižno; a visit with young school kids at the Rusyn-language elementary school at Čabiny; walks around Prešov to the various places of worship and the Rusyn Museum; a play in Rusyn at the Alexander Dukhnovych Theater; a pysankŷ and a folksong workshop; a trip north into Poland to the town of Krynica to visit Lemko Rusyn sites, including the Nikifor Drovniak museum and a visit to a Rusyn Orthodox church along with famous and much beloved Lemko Rusyn poet Petro Trochanovsky; and an excursion to Kurov, the native village of Studium instructor and Prešov University professor emeritus Mykola Mushynka where Studium participants will—as they did last summer—experience a magnificent performance by the Kurov folk ensemble. This performance will replicate the springtime “Rusalia” festival replete with an authentic Rusyn wedding. Last summer’s participants were absolutely enthralled by this last visit. The village folk welcome us warmly, their ensemble is superb, the food is excellent, and the music will have us tapping our feet and dancing. 

Next blog text: Faculty and Classes.
Written by:  Patricia Krafcik.  Email:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


The main building of Presov University

Are you considering participating in the Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum International Summer School for Rusyn Language and Culture? You may have questions about what the experience is going to offer, what it will be like to live for three weeks in Prešov, what the dorm and the cafeteria food are like, what a typical day offers, what the class sessions will be, what excursions are planned. In the course of two blog texts, we’ll offer some helpful information based on last summer’s experience and on what is in the works for this coming summer.

Prešov is a small but bustling city, typical for Central Europe with a large main square built on “Main Street” (“Hlavná ulica”) and surrounded by beautiful historical buildings and busy with people shopping, strolling, heading to work or home. An informational souvenir shop right on the square offers free small maps, which last summer’s participants discovered and found useful in identifying streets and sites in the city center, and your Studium organizers will point out this shop on a walking tour of the city early in your stay. The TESCO department store, also located nearby on Hlavná ulica offers all kinds of goods, including groceries, clothes, toiletries, and souvenirs.
The Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky

On the main square is the striking Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Nicholas, and just down Hlavná ulica within easy walking distance is the Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Not far from this is the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, and tucked into the Old Town near the square is the Orthodox Jewish Synagogue. On the street you may hear Slovak, Hungarian, and Rusyn spoken. In Prešov, one quickly begins to understand the wonderfully multicultural nature of eastern Slovakia. And don’t overlook the little side street called Florian Street because here you’ll find the amazing “Croatia” ice cream shop with its shop window open onto the pedestrian-only walkway. You’ll visit there more than once. After ice cream, just cross the street to enjoy a steaming coffee or a cold beer on the outdoor patio and enjoy people-watching. From your university dorm to the main square is a comfortable walk of about 10 minutes—and there is sufficient free time built into the busy Studium schedule for you to enjoy all of this.
The Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Just across the street from your dorm is perhaps the most beloved and most frequently visited spot for Studium participants—the Ballada coffee shop. This is a cozy place, with an intimate feel both downstairs and upstairs, its walls lined with bookshelves filled with books, including books about Carpatho-Rusyns. Or sit outside in late afternoon or into the evening and relax with new friends over coffee, tea, or the ubiquitous icy beer. Wireless Internet there also draws students with their laptops. Next to the Ballada is a small grocery store with the basic necessities such as milk, yogurt, juices, fruit, chocolate, and some baked goods, and yet another shop with school supplies. At the university’s main building, you’ll find a small shop with university-related souvenirs, including T-shirts, mugs, caps, and other memorabilia.

In the next piece, we’ll describe the dorm, the cafeteria, and what is on the docket for this coming summer’s classes and excursions. 

The best ice cream shop, located on Florian Street
Written by:  Patricia Krafcik -

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum 2014

Prešov University in Prešov, Slovakia, announces its fifth annual three-week
Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum International Summer School for Rusyn
Language and Culture to be held from June 15 - July 5, 2014 (applicants
from North America may begin arriving from Saturday, June 14, 2014).
The program is hosted by the university‘s Institute of Rusyn Language
and Culture. Prešov University is the only university in the Slovak Republic
offering a full-time academic program in Rusyn language and literature
accredited for both the B.A and M.A. in Rusyn Language and Literature.

The Studium summer school is intended for those interested in studying
the Rusyn language and the history of the Carpatho-Rusyns, including
high school (18 and over) and college students, as well as Slavists and any
who wish to broaden their knowledge of East Slavic language, history, and
culture. Participants can expect to acquire a familiarity with or strengthen
their competency in the Rusyn language, as well as gain an understanding
of Carpatho-Rusyn history, culture, literature, and ethnography.

The Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum is held on the campus of Prešov
University, at 17th of November Street, #15 (ulica 17. Novembra, č. 15),
with the dormitory, cafeteria, and classroom building all located in close
proximity. Instruction is provided by university professors, distinguished
Slavists, and specialists in Carpatho-Rusyn studies from Slovakia, Ukraine,
the United States, and Canada. The language of instruction, in parallel
courses, is either Rusyn or English. The program offers 20 hours of history
lectures and 20 hours of language instruction. A ten-hour minicourse in
Carpatho-Rusyn ethnography will also be offered in both English and Rusyn
as part of the curriculum. Extra practice sessions outside of the classroom
will help participants strengthen their conversational skills. Participants
who complete the program receive official certificates from the Studium,
and transcripts will be available for students who wish to earn credits for the
program through their home universities.

Carpatho-Rusyn History:
The history lecture series focuses on Carpathian Rus’ and the Carpatho-
Rusyns worldwide from the earliest times to the present. Lecturers include
Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, University of Toronto, and Dr. Valerii Padiak,
Researcher and Publisher, Center for Carpatho-Rusyn Studies, Uzhhorod,

Carpatho-Rusyn Ethnography:
The mini-course in Carpatho-Rusyn ethnography is taught in English by
Associate Professor Patricia Krafcik, The Evergreen State College (Olympia,
Washington) and in Rusyn by Professor Mykola Mušynka, External Faculty in
the Institute for Rusyn Language and Culture, Prešov University, and covers
selected topics in folklore.

Rusyn Language:
The Rusyn language is offered for beginners, for students who have some
knowledge of Russian, Ukrainian, or another Slavic language, and for
native speakers of Rusyn. These classes are intended to help participants
acquire an understanding of the theoretical linguistic aspects of the Rusyn
language, as well as to develop proficiency in the spoken and written
language. Instructors include from Prešov University: Associate Professor
Anna Plišková and Dr. Kvetoslava Koporová.

Extracurricular Activities:
The following activities take place outside of class and include:

– presentations on Rusyn traditions, folklore, and the socio-cultural life
of Carpatho-Rusyns in Slovakia, including a visit to the Svidník Folklore
Festival and Rusyn cultural institutions in Prešov;

– presentations on Rusyn folk architecture and culture, including visits
to museums, skanzens, and wooden churches, and excursions in the
Prešov Region of northeastern Slovakia where Rusyns reside;
– a Rusyn literary evening;

– visits to the Alexander Dukhnovych Theater and film viewings;
– pysankŷ (wax resist egg decorating) and folksong workshops.

Housing and Meals:
Participants are housed in a Prešov University dormitory in standard
2-bed/2-room suites with Internet access for laptop computers and dine in
the university cafeteria. The dormitory provides a communal kitchen with
refrigerator, washing machines, and dryers. Wireless Internet is accessible in
the cafeteria building. Available in the university neighborhood are grocery
stores, a pharmacy, restaurants, Internet cafes, bookstores, and easy access
to city transportation.

Applications and a complete program schedule for the Studium may be
found at and http://www.c-rs.

Applications will be accepted online until March 1, 2014, and should be
sent to the following email address: The online application
process is much preferred, but hard copies may be sent to the following
postal address:

Prešovská univerzita
Ústav rusínskeho jazyka a kultúry
Ul. 17. novembra 15
080 01 Prešov, SLOVAK REPUBLIC

The cost for the three-week session, including tuition, housing, three meals
daily, all excursions, and all museum admissions, is 1200 Euros or $1670.
A non-refundable administrative deposit of 100 Euros or $140.00 is due by
March 1, 2014. This fee will be applied to the total cost, with the remainder
of 1100 Euros or $1530.00 due by May 15, 2014. Participants are responsible
for their own travel costs to and from Prešov.

Some financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students registered in a
college or university may be available on a needs basis. Please address any
requests for financial aid to Assoc. Prof. Anna Plišková at:

Prešovská univerzita
Ústav rusínskeho jazyka a kultúry
Ul. 17. novembra 15
080 01 Prešov, SLOVAK REPUBLIC.

Payment by bank check is preferred and is to be sent to the following

Prešovská univerzita
Ms. Katarína Sabolová
Ul. 17. novembra 15
080 01 Prešov

Bank transfers are also possible to:

Current Account: Prešovská univerzita Prešov
Account Number: 7000066503/8180
IBAN: SK15 8180 0000 0070 0006 6503
Bank Name: Štátna pokladnica
Bank Address: Radlinského 32,
810 05 Bratislava 15,
Slovak Republic
Variable symbol: 1780

Within Slovakia and Europe, contact Dr. Timea Verešová, (English-speaking)
for information, at, tel.: +421 (51) 7720 392, +421 915 412

Within North America, contact Associate Professor Patricia Krafcik, at

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Former C-RS National President presenting a host of topics at 2013 Czechoslovak Genealogical Society Conference in Chicago

You were one of the top people listed on our 2011 St. Louis Conference evaluation as a Chicago speaker,” Czechoslovak Genealogical Society Chair Paul Makousky wrote to former C-RS National President John Righetti. “So even though you were not in St. Louis, you were on the minds of the attendees.”
A noted speaker on a wide variety of Rusyn and East European topics, John will deliver three presentations when CGSI holds its national conference in Chicago in October 2013.
John’s knowledge is a combination of   “book learning” and life experience.
At the University of Pittsburgh, he earned a certificate in Russian and East European Studies, with an emphasis in Austro-Hungarian history. He also studied Slovak and Ukrainian languages there. Later, he was one of two adult students chosen to study Rusyn folk choreography and culture in Uzhorod, Transcarpathia  in 1983. Living among the Rusyns in Ukraine , he gained a keen sense of culture in everyday life.
That sense only supplemented what he already knew, growing up in a largely Slavic neighborhood in the mid Mon Valley town of Monessen just south of Pittsburgh. Rusyn culture was an everyday part of his existence. His great grandfather had been a church cantor and Rusyn political activist; his great grandmother a folk healer/midwife for Monessen’s Slavic community.
“People have often said to me ‘How did you preserve all this culture?’ My answer ? We didn’t preserve anything. We just lived it,” he said.
John’s presentations at the CGSI conference will present different aspects of Rusyn history and culture. One is titled “Rusyns as the Third Founding People of Czechoslovakia “and enlightens how Rusyns played a key role in Czechoslovakia’s development and the effects being one of its founding peoples had on the Rusyn community there and in the United States.
Another is “Rusyns and Slovaks: Similarities and Differences”. He has delivered this presentation in a number of  major American cities, and to mixed audiences of Rusyns, Slovaks---and even Czechs.
“There is so much confusion among recent generations of Rusyns and Slovaks about their distinctiveness that didn’t exist 100 years ago,” he said. “This presentation helps contemporary Rusyns and Slovaks learn one another’s similarities and differences –and gain an appreciation for each other’s distinctive cultural qualities.
When he delivered this lecture at the National Bohemian Hall in New York City, a retired university professor stood up and exclaimed it was the most thorough and understandable presentation on this topic she ever heard.
The third presentation that will be delivered in Chicago is titled “Carpatho-Rusyn Culture –it’s not just blessed baskets and stuffed cabbages”. Its focus is the fullness and distinctiveness of Rusyn  folk culture , outlining the pagan practices Rusyns adapted to Christianity and continue to this day as well as evolving culture attributes developed as a result of their challenging history.
“Culture is not just the warm things we remember baba (grandma) doing. Carpatho-Rusyn culture is as rich, ancient and meaningful as any other. We need to learn to take our culture seriously as a part of who we are as a community—and who we are as individuals, “John explains. “Whether you realize it or not, your culture, rooted centuries ago, influences every decision you make today . In this session, we’ll explore that.”
So mark your calendars for Sat. Oct. 26, 2013 for Chicago—and explore Rusyn history and culture with John.

 Written by John Righetti.  E-mail

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Carpatho-Rusyns of Poland - the Lemkos


John J. Righetti

From the Madzik Collection:  Hospodari (Farmers)1930s
Many times when people are at Carpatho-Rusyn gatherings in North America, someone will proclaim “Well, I’m a Lemko.” What does that mean?
The Lemkos are the Carpatho-Rusyns who lived in what is today southern Poland, a region known as western Galicia.  They are the same Rusyns as those that lived in Hungary, but they lived first in Poland, which later became the Austrian portion of Austria-Hungary, so their history and influences were a little different from the Rusyns in what is today Slovakia and Ukraine. But their language, music and religion were the same.
The word” Lemko” is a relatively new one, though. Lemkos didn’t call themselves Lemkos until the early 1900s. Before that , they simply called themselves Rusyns or “Rusnaks” just like all the other Carpatho-Rusyns in the Carpathian Region of Eastern Europe (we’ll explore why later).
They were formed, like all other Rusyns, from the merger of the three tribes of White Croats, Vlachs and Rus’ . And the Rus’ tribes that helped make them up came to the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains from the 1300s-1500s. They settled the valleys there and built incredible wooden churches. They were very different from their Polish neighbors in speech, appearance and faith-since they spoke an East Slavic language(Polish is West Slavic) they were smaller in build and they were Eastern Christians (Poles being Roman Catholics).
Because they were so different, there was little chance of assimilation or “becoming Polish,” the dominant nationality.
From the Madzik Collection: Vasyl Hbur, Bortne 1932
But because they lived on the northern slopes in what was Poland, not Hungary like the rest of the Rusyns, they developed some distinct cultural traits. For instance, Lemkos did have a church choral tradition, and in fact, became noted for their choirs—both in church and in their villages. To this day, there are many Rusyn choirs among the Lemkos in Poland and Lemko immigrants in the North America. Everywhere there were Lemkos, there were folk choirs. Communities like Yonkers, NY, New York City, Toronto ,Canada, and others had well known Lemko folk choirs.
And because they did not assimilate with Poles and the western-influenced culture of the Poles, they kept a stronger tie to the East. Saints which played a key role in Lemko life included Paraskeva, Dimitri, Panteleimon, Barbara, Cosmas & Damian. This is reflected in the names of their churches and the names of their children. Even in America, these saints can be seen often on the icon screen, on the walls or in the stained glass windows of churches founded by Lemkos.
In 1772, Poland was dismantled by three European powers and disappeared from the world map until 1918. The region the Lemkos lived in, Galicia, became a part of Austria. By the mid-1850s, Austria was one of the great world powers. On its border was another world power—Russia. And where Russia met Austria was in Galicia. By the late 1800s, Russia had decided it wanted to expand into Europe and the most logical place to do it was Galicia. Russia’s plan was to convince the Rusyns they were “Russians from the Carpathians.” They believed that if they were successful, they could invade Austria, saying they were liberating their “own people.”
Russia began to operate Russian reading rooms in Lemko Rusyn villages where literature could be placed and teachers brought in to teach the Rusyns about their true “Russian” heritage. Austria decided to counter this by backing the new Ukrainian movement out of L’viv. With Austrian government support, Ukrainian reading rooms were opened in the Lemko region to convince the Rusyns that they were not Russians, but “Ukrainians.” This “battle for the Rusyn soul” even came across the ocean to America, where Lemko communities were split into “Russian” and ”Ukrainian “ communities and churches. But the Lemko peasants were neither –they were Carpatho-Rusyns.
In 1914, Austria opened a concentration camp in a town called Talerhof in Austria and the Austrian government began to imprison there any Lemko Rusyns who advocated for a Russian or a Rusyn nationality. The purpose of the concentration camp was to take away any teachers, leaders or priests who the Austrians thought could be an enemy of Austria – anybody teaching the people that they were of Rusyn or Russian background. About 14,000 were imprisoned in Talerhof and about 4,000 died or were executed there. The Carpatho-Rusyn Lemkos were therefore in a concentration camp  more than 20 years before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis placed anybody in a concentration camp during World War II!
Because of the great trouble among the Rusyns about whether they were Russian or Ukrainian, a new neutral term came into being –Lemko. It didn’t necessarily favor one orientation or another ; in fact if sort of inferred that Lemkos were a distinct people. Where did this word come from?
Believe it or not, the Carpatho-Rusyns in southern Poland were the only people in that area that used the word “lem” for “only.” The Slovaks, Poles and Ukrainians did not have this word. And so it was used as a root to describe these people –the ones who say ’lem’.
After World War II, the Communist Polish government decided that it wanted its minority groups out of Poland. In 1946, it moved many Lemkos voluntarily to Soviet Ukraine, but the Lemkos who refused to leave their Carpathian homeland were forcibly resettled in 1947 in a n event called the Vistula Action. The Lemko Rusyns were told to sell their things and pack what they could. They were not told what was happening. They were then taken to cattle cars and moved to Ukraine or small former German villages in western Poland. The goal was to denationalize the Lemko Rusyns by scattering them among other peoples.
The Lemko Rusyns are a resilient people though. They began to get together in Poland at events called “Vatra,” which means bonfire. They would travel great distances and reunite at these events, and used this to revive their culture in Poland. They were enormously successful. Today, there are Lemko Rusyn cultural organizations, dance groups, writers, publications, radio, and Lemko Rusyn language taught in elementary schools and at the university level.  About 10,000 Lemkos have returned to their homeland in the Carpathians of southern Poland. The Polish government recognizes the Lemko Rusyns as a distinct ethnic group different from Russians and Ukrainians. And in the last 10 years, the number of people who identify as Lemkos in Poland has increased  from 6,000 to 10,000!
In America, the Lemkos were very active in keeping their culture alive. In the1920s the Lemko Association was founded in America and grew into a national organization. It created the Carpatho-Russian American Center in Yonkers ,NY and  retreat grounds in New York as well. Lemkos ran a Rusyn language radio program back in the 1930s and many Lemko records were made for immigrants to listen to. In just the last few years, The Lemko Association has been revived in the U.S.
Lemko Rusyns have certainly left their mark on America. The actress Sandra Dee and the jazz composer Bill Evans were both Lemkos. And the wedding scenes in the movie “The Deerhunter” were filmed at the Lemko Hall in Cleveland and St. Theodosius Orthodox Cathedral, a church founded heavily by Lemkos.
But because of the nationality confusion created intentionally by Russia and Austria, there are many Lemko Rusyns in America today who still think of themselves as Russians or Ukrainians.
 Despite the most challenging of circumstances, the Lemko Rusyns have survived until this day and are continually reviving their precious Carpatho-Rusyn culture.

Copyright  John Righetti, 2013
Map: Courtesy of the Lemko Association